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Candidates looking to attract more student voters

The numbers last year were bad: 1,848 votes in a student body presidential election that boasted four tickets. But then they got better, as that count nearly doubled to just more than 2,500 when, a week later, Student Government held a runoff for the two remaining tickets.

The ticket that eventually won — Omar Khan and Ryan Morris — did it by just two votes.

And now Khan, who is up for re-election, and other candidates are hoping for a significantly better turnout in this year’s election, which has six tickets.

“I hope we wreck that number,” Khan said of last year’s turnout.

He wants to see 5,000, and he thinks the prospect of that many students voting is entirely plausible. This year, candidates, Khan said, started campaigning earlier than last year and as a group have reached more voting blocs on campus. And the diversity of the candidates — a mix of different social and ethnic backgrounds — will also lead to the “record turnout,” Khan expects.

Candidate Bijal Chhadva wants 10,000 students to vote, but he said he too would be satisfied with half that.

“We are trying to put a lot of time and energy into this, reaching out to students…,” Chhadva said of trying to convince students to take to the polls April 7 and 8. As for 10,000 students — nearly 30 percent of the Tampa campus’ population — Chhadva said he simply has high expectations.

“It’s good to have a goal,” he said. “You have to strive for something.”

All the candidates will have another chance to persuade students to vote Thursday when SG holds another debate, this time in the Engineering Auditorium (ENA 105) at 7 p.m. Last Thursday, 50 people showed up to a room in Russell M. Cooper Hall to hear the candidates debate campus issues and outline their platforms.

For some, it was a disappointing turnout, others, though, don’t share that sentiment. Candidate Esque Dollar said last week’s debate might have made USF’s student body seem apathetic to some, but in context, it wasn’t so bad.

“Fifty people at a debate? That was probably the biggest debate we’ve had in about two years,” Dollar said. “I will be surprised if we get more (Thursday).”

With this being the last full week for campaigning before the elections, candidates for the most part are sticking to what has worked for them for the past several weeks.

Brandon Faza and J.P. Murphy are going to keep pushing their extensive advertising campaign, which includes a constantly updated Web site, buttons, business cards, a rap song and Faza’s inconspicuous Dodge pick-up, which he adorned with Bulls regalia after Homecoming, and which now doubles as a mobile campaign billboard.

“I think we want to try to maintain the professional and creative approach to campaigning and continue to reach out to every student on campus, because we want students to know that every student’s voice will be included in this administration,” Faza said.

Dollar, who is president of the Black Student Union, said that during the final days before the election he will not change his campaign style. You won’t find him campaigning anywhere on campus he wouldn’t normally visit, he said.

“I’m not going to go to events that I never go to just so people can see me and I can hand out fliers,” Dollar said.

And he also says he won’t be trying to garner any votes from BSU. In fact, he says, besides casually mentioning to BSU members that he was contemplating running back in January, Dollar says he hasn’t discussed his candidacy or his campaign at his weekly meetings.

“I’m not going to try to coerce people into voting for me because they see me there every Thursday,” he said.

The same does not go for Mike Mincberg, who says he has been regularly attending BSU meetings in an effort to extend his campaign to the black population.

For Mincberg and running mate Christi Clements — who have only just been reinstated after a trademark infraction disqualified them Feb. 20 — their attempt to catch up has been successful, they say. When contacted late Sunday night, the two said they had just finished a round of meetings with six separate student groups.

Mincberg and Clements are banking heavily on the Greek vote in the upcoming election, as both are involved in that community, Mincberg, a member of Phi Delta Theta fraternity, and Clements, a member of Alpha Delta Pi. In addition, Clements is a recruitment counselor and has met many of the new sorority members this year.

As far as campaign changes for this week, Mincberg would only say that he had something “up my sleeve.”

Chhadva is also sticking to what works, but this year he thinks he might have an advantage heading into the final days. Chhadva ran for student body president last year, his first year at USF, and this experience has made him a more attractive candidate, he says.

Chhadva is also serving his second year as a resident assistant, where he said he has “learned how to interact with students and mingle with people.” But he stresses that he’s involved elsewhere on campus, too, as a SG senator and USF ambassador.

And for Khan, his campaign this time around is not so easy. He said managing the duties of student body president and campaigning for an election poses a major time crunch for him and his running mate Chris Jackson.

Monday and Tuesday, for instance, Khan will be in Tallahassee for USF Day at the Capitol, where he and other school leaders will lobby on behalf of USF students.

Candidate Ricky Arias and his running mate Matt Camarco could not be reached to comment.